One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE
Robert recently addressed an issue that came up when someone left a comment about the sound of Tone Poets reissues vis a vis the the pressings that Rudy Van Gelder mastered, to wit:
“To say anything other than the difference (between the T.P. and the RVG) is subjective is misleading the audience.”
Robert explains in the post below that he has worked very hard to make his system as neutral as he possibly can, and why he thinks that is a good idea. He also notes that he isn’t done, that there is plenty of work left to do, and that a more revealing, more truthful system is his one and only goal.
Any piece of equipment, or tweak, or setup trick that brings him closer to the sound he perceives as better is to be accepted and adopted after passing the “more truthful” tests he puts anything and everything through.
There are scores of posts on this very blog that are there to explain what we do and how we do it.
We tell you about our playback system and why it’s good at its job.
Practically every listing on our site has standardized text detailing the three areas that are key to understanding our vintage vinyl offerings. They include:
- What sonic qualities our Hot Stampers have.
- How we go about finding records with these qualities, and
- What we’re listening for in order to distinguish the superior pressings from the more average ones.
This is what all that looks like on our site:
What The Best Sides Of [Record X] Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in [insert year here]
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing these records are the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find pressings that sound as good as these three do.
Standard Operating Procedures
What are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, and so on down through the list.
When we can get all, or most all, of the qualities above to come together on any given side we provisionally award it a grade of “contender.” Once we’ve been through all our copies on one side we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner for that side. Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides matched up.
Record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols developed over the course of many years to ensure that the sonic grades we assign to our Hot Stampers are as accurate as we can make them.
The result of all our work speaks for itself, on this very record in fact. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing — or your money back.
What We’re Listening For On [Record X]
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
All this boilerplate exists to explain how we go about finding the records we think are superior, using rigorous protocols and the scientific method.
Over the last twenty five years, we’ve written hundreds and hundreds of commentaries that often get deep into the weeds on specific aspects of the sound of the albums we play. This is information that, to our knowledge, exists right here on this blog and nowhere else. (This commentary discusses some of the issues we’ve addressed.)
What’s Your Point?
My point is simply this. In order to take the subjectivity out of our reviews, we try to approach records the way Consumer Reports tests blenders:
Blender X is terrible at making margaritas and blender Y is good at making them. The company that makes bad blenders should be called to account. If there is a name attached to that company, then I guess we can say that that person who runs that company should learn how to make better blenders or find something else to do with his time.
I am not impressed with the quality of the records being made today, and it follows that those who make them are responsible for the poor quality of the modern remastered LPs they make. (The complete text is here.)
We don’t test blenders, we test records, and we do that by cleaning and critically evaluating different pressings of the same album.
When we run experiments with Heavy Vinyl records, comparing them to the vintage vinyl pressings we find, the one thing we can say about them is that they are consistently inferior. Some are a great deal worse than others, to be sure, but they are all inferior to one degree or another.
We have yet to play a Tone Poets reissue in one of our shootouts. We have a couple scheduled and should be able to report our findings soon.
If you as an audiophile want to make the case for the superior quality of the records put out by this label, we are happy to entertain the possibility, as unlikely as we expect it to be.
But simply saying that, since all reviews are subjective, your review is as credible as any other, will not do.
If you want to be taken seriously, you will need to back up your claims. Here are some things we would like to know.
- Tell us about your system, room, electricity, etc.. What are its strengths and weaknesses.
- Tell us what specific pressings you played.
- Tell us if you cleaned them, and if so, by what method.
- Tell us what protocols you used to make sure the comparison was a fair one.
- Tell us how you optimized the playback of each pressing, accounting for the difference in vinyl thickness, playback levels and the like.
- Tell us what specifically you were listening for.
- Tell us what tracks you played and what made you choose those tracks.
- Tell us about the specific strengths and weaknesses of each of the pressings.
Let’s be honest. You are never going to tell us all these things, because you are never going to do what would amount to a proper shootout. You are simply going to assert that, since your opinion is as good as any other, none of the above effort is required.
But it is required if you want to be taken seriously by other audiophiles.
We encourage everyone to take the approach we take and do the kind of work we do in order to be sure that the records we offer are objectively superior to all others.
If you’re looking for the best sounding pressings, either we can do the work for you, or you can do the work for yourself, but either way, to be successful the work must be done.
Pretending that your opinion has just as much validity as any other is the most obvious kind of motivated reasoning, borne out of pure laziness. It doesn’t get you off the hook. It just insures that you will never get very far in this hobby.
Audio is hard. So is finding good sounding records. Anyone who thinks otherwise is likely not doing it right.
Robert Brook is showing everyone the way. I know the path he’s on because I have been on that same path for a very long time.
Read his stuff and learn from it. Do the work he’s doing and you will make the advances he’s making.